A sound not unlike a the sound of the seal breaking on a bottle of juice was followed by the zombie’s head snapping back and my arms and chest being sprayed with blood that stank of iron and old cooking oil.
“Close the damn gate!” A gravelly voice called from above.
I slammed the gate shut and took a couple of steadying breaths. The smell of the blood made me almost physically ill, but I choked the feeling back and tried my best to shake off the nausea. At some point I made my way over to the door that Beth had used and after being hosed off adequately, I was allowed inside.
Two soldiers painfully pinned me to a wall while another used an alarmingly large and ridiculous knife to strip me down to my boxers. The third soldier stepped aside, pulled a gun from the holster on his hip and placed the barrel up to my forehead while a woman in a lab coat stepped forward and began conducting an on the spot physical.
“Is he infected?”
The female voice echoed off of the brick walls and down the corridor. Eventually I could see a small woman walked towards me in the dimly lit hallway. As she got closer, I began to notice details. She also wore a lab coat, though unlike the woman inspecting me, she was well into her sixties. The roots of her hair were a stark white in contrast to the rich brown of the rest of her hair gathered into a tight bun and held in place by what appeared to be a broken pencil.
“I don’t think so.” The younger woman answered.
“Keep him segregated for twenty-four hours just in case.” She ordered.
The third soldier stepped forward and punched me square in the jaw, knocking me out completely.
I never did well alone. I’ve always needed the company of others in some way to make me feel like part of the world at large. For twenty-four hours though, I was denied that and close to the breaking point when I was finally released. My hands were bound behind my back and I was frog marched from the bowels of the school basement all the way up to the principal’s office.
Along the way, after my eyes had adjusted to the light, I began to notice things.
Whoever had occupied the school had done so with brilliant planning. Some classrooms we passed along the way were full of children, while others housed families and others were heavily barricaded and guarded supply rooms. Even the cafeteria doors were barred and guarded by a couple of large and rather unpleasant looking soldiers.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I needed to find Beth and see if she’d found Dawn here. This was, after all, the girls’ school and logically this would be the place to find her.
That was going to have to wait though as I was marched at gunpoint through the school.
“Where are we headed exactly?” I asked.
“Just keep moving.” Was his only reply.
Well, that and a small shove with the barrel of the assault rifle firmly pressed into my spin. My patience was beginning to wear thin.
I was guided into an office where I was face to face with the sixty year old lab coat that had me locked away.
My mood wasn’t improving.
“Please have a seat, young man.” She instructed me.
It struck me that this woman was quite used to having her instruction followed, so I bit back the sarcastic observation about her age. I wasn’t convinced I wouldn’t get a rifle butt to the head for my trouble.
“Now that we’re sure you aren’t infected…” She began. “Why are you here?”
I calmly explained the circumstances of Beth and my arrival and to her credit, she merely listened intently and nodded her understanding. After I had finished, I tried to bite back the urge to be snide about my treatment.
“And then I was stripped, examined, beaten and locked up in a dark room for a day.”
For a moment I was sure that she was going to instruct the soldier behind me to my right to strike me. Her facial features remained neutral though for several seconds and somehow I felt the way I did when my mother would give me a hard look. Before I could mutter an apology though, she smiled comfortingly.
“I am sorry, but in these times we need to protect ourselves and those we are entrusted with.” She said matter-of-factly. “I’m sure you of all people can understand that.”
I could in fact. I didn’t like my treatment, but given Dawn’s disappearance and the image of a zombie skull exploding before my eyes forever burned into my mind, my anger was quickly subsiding.
“Where are Beth and Dawn?” I asked.
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair for a moment as though trying to compose her thoughts.
“The woman you came with left shortly after you arrived.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t force people to stay here if they’re intent on leaving and a mother searching for her child…well, I just couldn’t do that to her.”
“You sent someone with her of course. To protect her?” I insisted, already knowing the answer.
“We can’t afford to leave ourselves undefended.”
I closed my eyes and sighed. Trying to regain a hold on my anger, which flared dangerously.
“We gave her a shotgun with some ammunition and supplies, but I’m afraid I can’t just order our soldiers to take on suicide missions.” She continued.
“This much we do know; the girl never showed up for school today and neither did her boyfriend.” The old woman explained. “There’s an excellent chance they’re at his apartment. I gave the mother the address from the school files.”
My only reply as I stood was: “I need a weapon.”
She looked at me for a long moment.
“Are you sure?” The old woman asked finally.
She laughed in spite of herself and shook her head.
“Gear him up Sergeant.” She instructed the soldier.
Within the hour I had a suppressed MP5, ten 30-round clips of ammunition, some dried beef and fruit and a pack with some survival gear on my back. I’d declined the full riot gear they offered me since these zombies appeared to be track stars and I wasn’t about to be weighed down by all that crap on me. The soldiers were kind enough to setup a diversion and I snuck out of the front door of the school and set off down the street. Dawn’s boyfriend lived seven blocks away, but it might as well have been on Mars if more runners showed up looking for a quick meal.